A Little Something Sweet…

A Little Something Sweet…

I was going to title this Extra Credit edition, “Duh.” But upon putting the article together, I was in a little more charitable (and less sarcastic) mood. I am absolutely not questioning method, conclusion or relevance! It’s just that the researchers reached a conclusion that I think we’ve all suspected for the whole of our lives. But here it is – we finally have evidence that appetite and satiety is decidedly uncoupled from the desire for sweet-tasting food. Yes, it’s true, while we may have just eaten a dinner the size of a small Honda, we somehow find room for and indeed crave ‘something sweet’!

Citation : Harington K, Smeele R, Venn B, et al. Desire for Sweet Taste Unchanged After Eating: Evidence of a Dessert Mentality?. Journal Of The American College Of Nutrition [serial online]. August 2016;35(6):581-586. Available from: SPORTDiscus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 7, 2016.


This is a study that took place at a university lab in New Zealand and was comprised of 83 subjects that were both male and female students, studying nutrition. None of the participants had food allergies or chronic or digestive disease. Each subject was assigned a start time of either morning or afternoon and each was instructed to fast for four hours before the beginning of the test. The subjects were given twos slices of bread with margarine. Each subject was then immediately shown different foods on plates and asked to indicate whether or not they would like some of the food that was being shown and if so, how many servings? They were shown foods that were savory, fatty, salty and sweet. They repeated the food presentation and the questions at 30, 60, 90, 120, 150 and 180 minutes.

The Takeaway

Researchers found that the desire for salty, fatty and savory was markedly reduced following the consumption of bread. However, the desire for sweet remained fairly constant. Essentially, this study found that a person can be calorically satisfied and yet still want to eat ‘something sweet’.

Interesting Bits
  • The subjects in this study were nutrition students. There is a phenomena in research called, “social desirability bias” where the subject desires to give the ’correct’ answer to the interviewers (or what they perceive to be correct). Since these were nutrition students, did they perceive that there was pressure to give the ‘right’ answer? That of course they were not supposed to want anything sweet, after all, they ARE nutrition students, right? So it would be very interesting to see this study done with different population groups and see if the results were the same. In the general population, the desire for sweet might eclipse that of the nutrition students!
  • The food that they gave the subjects was bread with margarine (yuck!). Even with the insulin-blunting effects of fat, bread still breaks down quickly and easily to glucose. What role does a predominantly glucose meal have in readying neural patterns for desiring even more sugar (based on the observation that abstinence is often easier than moderation)? I would like to see the study repeated with several types of meals….fatty, protein, perhaps a salad with an oil dressing, to see if this affected desire for sweets.
  • Finally, another potential confounder is the predominantly Western cultural norm of eating something sweet after meals. Would the same be true for cultures and people that were not habituated to eating sweet things after a meal?

Why Do I Care?

Just being aware of this principal can make us wise in situations where we normally fall prey to emotional sabotage. Recognize that we humans eat with our eyes and know that restaurants are not rolling that dessert cart ‘round to get in a little cardio! Understand that if your mind is saying “Yes Yes” to sweets, that does not necessarily mean that you are still hungry. Have a plan to circumvent cravings and find satisfaction in people, conversation, a good meal and then call it a night! Perhaps the other, more indulgent, way of interpreting this study is to eat dessert first to avoid all those pesky calories from dinner!